Thursday

29th Feb 2024

Opinion

Anti-Roma hatred on streets of Budapest

  • Storm clouds over Budapest. Only the city's mayor Gergely Karácsony has so far raised his voice in protest at the weekend's events (Photo: John6536)

"Gyp*ies are fundamentally degenerate," shouted neo-fascists from the far-right Mi Hazánk (Our Homeland) group during an anti-Roma demonstration in the centre of Budapest last Friday (29 May).

The unauthorised march was triggered by the stabbing of two soccer fans in a fight between rival groups of young people.

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Anti-Roma slogans and abuse were hurled through densely crowded city streets. Though none of the three people arrested in connection with the murders was Roma according to media reports, the tragic incident was seized upon by neo-fascist demonstrators as evidence of "Gyp*y criminality."

This collective scapegoating of an oppressed and stigmatised community for individual criminal activity (whatever the ethnicity of the perpetrator) is a well-worn neo-fascist strategy.

Anti-Roma intimidation of this sort is neither new nor exceptional. Virulent anti-Roma attacks and killings have tarnished Hungary's record for the past 13 years.

Remarkably, no national or EU leader has publicly condemned the aggressive and open dissemination of violent hate speech in Hungary's capital.

Only Budapest's mayor Gergely Karácsony has raised his voice in protest.

Silence of this sort is potentially lethal, as the historical record of speech acts enabling atrocity amply attests, from Nuremberg in the Nazi 1930s to Kigali at the start of the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

From 2007 onwards, far-right and neo-Nazi organisations, including the Hungarian Guard, the Hungarian Guard Movement, and the New Hungarian Guard, have been established, dismantled by courts, and re-constituted in Hungary.

In 2009 evidence emerged that some of these groups had organised secret militia and paramilitary trainings for their members.

Under the battle-cry of "stopping Gyp*y crime" and dressed in special military uniforms, these groups have organised violent activities including terrifying, hate-filled rallies, and criminal attacks against Roma community members.

Neo-fascist activists have collaborated with local vigilante organisations and paramilitary groups intimidating, threatening, beating, and, on occasion, murdering members of Roma communities.

The European Roma Rights Center documented over 60 attacks against Roma between 2008 and 2012.

Some attackers used grenades and Molotov cocktails, killed Roma adults and children, including the five-year-old Robika Csorba and his father.

In 2011, vigilante groups patrolled the village of Gyongyospata for a month with paramilitary, extremist groups moving in armed with axes, whips, and bulldogs, attacking a 14- year-old Roma boy, and assaulting a pregnant Roma woman.

'Not fit to live among people'

The hate-filled violence of neo-fascist activists builds on the complicity of Hungarian political leaders and on the structural violence that perpetuates the devastating social and economic legacy of anti-Roma racism in Europe.

In 2013, Zsolt Bayer, founding member of the now ruling Fidesz party, wrote: "a significant part of the Roma are unfit for coexistence. They are not fit to live among people. These Roma are animals and they behave like animals."

Prime minister Victor Orban has invoked anti-Roma rhetoric time and again as part of his arsenal of racist hate speech.

In 2020, he openly criticised a court decision awarding damages to Roma children illegitimately segregated in special schools in Gyöngyöspata, describing the court ordered financial compensation as "money for nothing."

Extreme neo-fascist activity and anti-Roma hatred have seeped into collective Hungarian consciousness.

A 2019 Pew Research Center poll showed that 61 percent of Hungarians expressed negative sentiments toward Roma. The far-right TV station Hír backed Orban's criticism of the Gyöngyöspata school segregation judgment, with the support of 97 percent of its viewers.

Progressive and anti-racist Hungarians, including the thousands who mobilised and joined forces with Roma people to protest Orban's dismissal of the Gyöngyöspata case, have their work cut out for them.

With far-right groups on the offensive, government complicity, and hate speech again Roma and other minorities widely in evidence, and EU justice and human rights principles under attack across the continent, much more attention needs to be paid to each incident of anti-Roma violence, both to counter the immediate impact of intimidatory messaging and as early warning signs for potential future atrocities.

As we have argued since 2014, our all too recent past should prompt our institutions – national, regional and international – to build on the lessons learnt and take courageous pre-emptive steps moving forward.

Protecting hate speech and anti-Roma violence militate against both these urgent tasks.

Author bio

Jacqueline Bhabha is a professor of the practice of health and human rights at the Harvard T.H.Chan School of Public Health. She is the director of research at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University's only university-wide human rights centre.

Margareta Matache is a Roma rights activist and scholar currently working as an instructor and director of the Roma Program at the FXB Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University.

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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